Last week during a regularly scheduled workshop, members of Cecil Solidarity spoke before the Elkton Mayor and Commissioners requesting community input on the hiring of the next police chief for the town.
Current Police Chief Matt Donnelly is officially stepping down from the position Aug. 31. According to previous discussions of the Mayor and Commissioners, currently named Joe Zurolo, who was named as acting chief, is not interested in continuing in the chief’s position. The town has opened up the position and recently began accepting applications.
In response to that search for applications, members of Cecil Solidarity sought to speak before the mayor and commissioners regarding the hiring of a new chief for the town.
Cecil Solidarity member Christine Givens outlined the group’s requests, which included five points:
1. That the mayor call for a diversified search committee made up of community leaders, including members of Cecil Solidarity such as Wright’s AME Pastor Kevin Brown.
2. That a statewide search be conducted that would allow the appointed search committee to compare candidates. Given said the group felt that current recruitment efforts were not enough to garner a diverse group of candidates.
3. The integration of more inclusive language in the hiring announcement with the goal to attract a more diverse candidate pool from a variety of differing backgrounds.
4. To be open minded to national best practices.
5. To keep the community form by conducting a truly transparent process.
Brown said the group approached the town about providing input in the police hiring because, “We believe the town of Elkton is at a moment where we can effectively bring the community and law enforcement together.”
In response to the requests by Cecil Solidarity, Elkton Town Administrator Lewis George said the job posting had been spread statewide, noting that the posting had been provided to the Maryland Municipal League and can also be found on LinkedIn.
From this posting, George said he had received 12 applications, some of them very experienced candidates with command level experience.
“I have some really good candidates,” George said.
George said he did not object to Cecil Solidarity’s request to add language to the job posting that would show the town’s commitment to hiring from a diverse candidate pool. Elkton Mayor Rob Alt said he also was not opposed to adding more inclusive language to the current job description in order to pull in a more diverse pool of candidates.
Brown said that if out of 12 candidates there are no minority candidates, then the job posting I not attracting a diverse enough group of candidates. He said that while he was aware that one African-American candidate had applied he wasn’t sure the job description as written was attracting a diverse enough pool.
He noted that Cecil County has a history of racism and that a job posting that does not mention diversity might not attract minority candidates due to the county’s past history.
Commissioner Earl Piner said that the discussion of hiring people based upon race was a touchy subject to him, noting that he wasn’t aware of any governmental agency he has ever been associated with hiring someone due to the color of their skin. He suggested to Brown that while he heard what the pastor was saying he didn’t agree with trying to specifically look for candidates of any race.
“Either way you look at it, it comes down to discrimination,” Piner said.
Brown said Cecil Solidarity is not looking for a Black candidate, but simply to make sure the process of hiring a new police chief is collaborative and diverse.
Commissioner Charles Givens said the town has used multiple methods to hire a police chief in the past including the use of a search committee, having George make the selection and promoting a current officer into the chief’s position. He noted that under the town’s charter, the town administrator has the authority to conduct the hiring of the next police chief.
Alt said his intention in the hiring of the next police chief would be to have the commission act as the selection committee. He said no one will be selected as the next police chief without the blessing of the commission and that he felt comfortable in the ability of the commission to perform the job.
Brown also asked the town whether or not there would be a requirement that the next chief live in Cecil County.
George said at this point the town had no intention of making that a requirement and noted that of the 12 candidates for the position, two strong candidates were currently living in Harford County and in Delaware near Elkton. He noted that he would go along with the commission if they wanted a residency requirement, but that the search for a chief would begin anew.
Alt said yesterday the town now has 16 applicants for the position.
In response to a question about next steps in the process, Alt said the commissioners would need to discuss the matter with George to determine what issues might exist and that they would provide a plan moving forward.
A couple of days after the meeting, Alt told the Cecil Whig that the town did add stronger language promoting workforce diversity in the advertisement for the police chief’s position, as Cecil Solidarity had requested.
Alt also said the town would be conducting its own search for a chief with the mayor and commissioners being part of the process from beginning to end. He said the town would not be appointing a separate committee to review the applicants, but said the commission would be the committee for the hiring process.